LCQ16: Employment agencies placing foreign domestic helpers

     Following is a question by the Hon Paul Tse and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (July 4):


     It has been reported that an employer recruited a foreign domestic helper (FDH) through an employment agency (EA) but, upon the arrival of the FDH, the employer found that with the middle and ring fingers of the FDH's right hand missing and two of her toes badly crippled, the FDH was unable to wring towels, stand firmly or take care of the employer's mentally handicapped daughter.  Another employer recruited, also through an EA, an FDH who claimed to have four years' experience in taking care of children and babies but, upon the arrival of that FDH, the employer found that as the FDH's left thumb and index finger were deformed, she could not hold teats and milk bottles steadily, nor did she know how to hold a baby properly, and after further questioning by the employer, the FDH admitted that she only had experience in taking care of the elderly people.  There was another case in which the employer recruited an FDH through an EA, but on the day following her arrival, the FDH claimed that owing to important family business, she had to resign and return to her home country immediately, with airfares paid by the employer, yet, about two months later, the employer caught sight of the FDH who had just returned from Macao.  Upon enquiries by the employer, the EA replied that the FDH had signed a contract with another new employer and would not return to her home country, and the employer suspected that the FDH and the EA had colluded to obtain service charges and airfares in a fraudulent way.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows, how an employer who finds that the FDH employed by him does not meet EA's descriptions and suspects that he has been deceived by the EA, may quickly and effectively hold the EA responsible for the situation;

(b) whether any policy bureau or government department is responsible for handling or co-ordinating the resolution of disputes similar to the aforesaid cases;

(c) whether it knows the respective numbers of cases received by the Government and the Consumer Council (CC) in each of the past three years and so far this year involving complaints against FDHs not meeting EA's descriptions as well as complaints against EAs not fulfilling their responsibilities and being negligent; the average time required to handle each case; how these cases were handled with; among such cases, the number of EAs being "named and shamed" or blacklisted by CC;

(d) of the number of cases in the past three years involving complaints against suspected collusion between FDHs and EAs to obtain service charges and airfares in a fraudulent way; the number of successful prosecutions and the details of the cases; and

(e) of the policy and measures in place to protect the interests of FDH employers; whether it has reviewed the inadequacies of the existing policy and considered adopting new measures to enhance the protection for FDH employers; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and whether it will conduct a review as soon as possible?



     The Government attaches great importance to monitoring the operation of employment agencies (EAs) and ensuring their compliance with the law through licensing, inspection and complaint handling.  All EAs (including those placing foreign domestic helpers (FDHs)) must apply for a licence from the Labour Department (LD) before providing any placement service.  Besides, an EA can only charge job seekers a commission of not more than 10% of the first month's salary received on successful placement.  Operating an EA without a licence or charging job seekers a fee other than the prescribed commission is an offence which carries a maximum fine of $50,000.  Moreover, the Commissioner for Labour may refuse to issue or renew, or even revoke an EA licence on justifiable grounds.

     My reply to the question raised by the Hon Paul Tse is set out below:

(a) If an employer suspects himself/herself to have been deceived by an EA, he/she may lodge a complaint to LD which will conduct investigation promptly.  The employer may also seek assistance from the Consumer Council (CC), and file civil claim against the EA for damages.

(b) Upon receipt of complaint against EA's illegal act, LD will conduct investigation and coordinate with relevant departments where necessary.  Indeed, an EA licensee was recently sentenced to imprisonment for 3 years and 8 months upon conviction of aiding and abetting an FDH for breach of condition of stay, conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to make false representation to an Immigration Officer.  As a result, the Commissioner for Labour immediately revoked the EA licence of the licensee.

(c) and (d) The number of complaints against EAs placing FDHs received by CC in the past three years is as follows:

Year    2009    2010    2011    Jan to May 2012
        ----    ----    ----    ---------------
Cases    204     214     260          113

     CC has no classification for cases involving FDHs not meeting EA's descriptions or suspected collusion between FDHs and EAs to obtain service charges and airfares in a fraudulent way.  These are generally grouped under the category of "sales practices".  For the complaints against EAs not fulfilling their responsibilities and being negligent, they are grouped under the category of "service quality".  The number of respective complaints is as follows:

Year            2009       2010       2011   Jan to May 2012
----            ----       ----       ----   ---------------
practices     12 cases   10 cases   12 cases     7 cases

quality      168 cases  183 cases  201 cases    83 cases

     CC will assist complainants and EAs to resolve their dispute by conciliation.  The processing time is subject to the nature and complexity of individual cases.  Up till now, no EA placing FDHs has been named and hit out by CC.

     In 2009, 2010, 2011 and the first 5 months of 2012, LD received 69, 67, 73 and 30 complaints respectively against EAs placing FDHs.  Most of the cases involved overcharging FDHs (54, 50, 54 and 18 cases year by year respectively).  LD will step up surprise inspections to EAs concerned and investigate if the EAs have breached the Employment Ordinance and Employment Agency Regulations.  The time required for investigation may vary, depending on the nature and complexity of individual cases.  Besides, LD does not have classification nor prosecution figure for complaints involving FDHs not meeting EA's descriptions, EAs not fulfilling their responsibilities and being negligent, or suspected collusion between FDHs and EAs to obtain service charges and airfares in a fraudulent way.

(e) It is the established principle of the Government's labour policy to strike a reasonable balance between the interests of employers and employees.  We will closely monitor the services provided by the EAs placing FDHs.  Moreover, to strengthen protection for consumers, the Government has proposed to broaden the scope of application of the Trade Description Ordinance to cover trade descriptions in respect of services made in consumer transactions, including indications, direct or indirect, of the quality of the services.  If the amendment bill is passed by the Legislative Council, any person who falls within the definition of trader will commit an offence if he applies a false description on the services that he provides to consumers.

Ends/Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:40